Wednesday, August 21, 2013


Two-and-a-half years ago, I wrote the following in a post on the uprising in Egypt:

Unless higher-level officers in the Egyptian army turn against the government, this protest wave will not turn into a revolution. Mubarak has shown that he's willing to go far - as far as the Iranian regime did - in crushing the protests. There cannot be regime change without the army losing faith in Mubarak or the president himself stepping down. And I don't know that the army has a party or a leader it would back beside Mubarak.

In the wake of that post, the "Arab Spring" seemed to unfold quite differently from what I had predicted. People everywhere celebrated the arrival of democracy in the region. But today, everything looks more like what many skeptics at the time predicted. In Syria, Libya, and Egypt, we have seen the weakness of civil society vis-à-vis the state or the armed thugs operating in its stead. Law-bound government, not to mention parliamentary democracy, is impotent in such circumstances.

The Egyptian army never lost its grip on power. Although it bowed to the popular movement at the time and backed the deposition of Mubarak, the army took the intervening time to undermine the Muslim Brotherhood government or allow the latter to undermine itself. The military regrouped and emerged as the only stable institution after a period of economic near-chaos and ineffectual government. It is now crushing the remaining opposition to its rule.

Much of the interesting discussion about the region - analysis which ignores the moralizing beloved by the ideologues in the West and elsewhere - is taking place on Facebook these days. It is carried out by tireless sifters, such as Un Monstruo Muy Monstruoso (also known as "Nobody" or simply "N.B.") and fearless scholars such as Aymenn Jawad Al-Tamimi, not to mention countless other important bloggers (e.g., Brown Moses) who make data collection their primary aim.